Kids martial arts can be an extremely positive, healthy activity for your child if they find the discipline that is best suited for their interest and personality. But, so many disciplines, finding a good fit is a lot easier said than done. While some focus on self-reflection, other disciplines are best for kids with a competitive streak. Some rank based on punching and kicking, while others emphasise form and control.
In order to choose the best martial arts discipline for your child, you must understand the nature of each, the potential benefits, and what is available in your area. Each discipline has a different origin, style, and technique and some may be better suited for your child than others. So how do you choose the right one for your kid?
Why Martial Arts for Kids
After observing a Tae Kwon Do class, Laura Di Franco asked her then five-year-old son, “So what do you think?” to which he responded: “I’ll do it if you do, Mom.” Six years later, Laura and her son earned their black belts together.
They completed a process that only about 5% of people who begin the martial arts journey actually achieve--a certified black belt.
Discipline, determination, a sense of accomplishment--and for Laura and her son--- togetherness are only a few of the benefits martial arts can bring to your child.
Sure, the idea of your grammar school child fighting with sticks in karate class may, at best, seem inadvisable. However, if taught properly, martial arts can actually encourage self-control--making it far less likely that your child will poke someone’s eye out with said sticks.
The nature of combat sports, combined with the popularity of those dodgy 1970s karate films, has caused a sort of stigma to surround martial arts for children. It’s a common misconception that it causes aggression, while the opposite is actually true. Children have a natural tendency to kick and punch. Martial arts instills a sense of self-control and confidence so they do not feel the need to act aggressively to prove themselves.
What does Martial Arts Teach a Child?
Other than being a great source of exercise, martial arts can be great for kids’ mental health too. A good studio and teacher will place special emphasis on respect, self-discipline and self-confidence. It has also been proven to help children with ADHD and other learning and attention issues maintain focus and concentration.
Martial arts focuses on individual, rather than team growth. Meaning that children who don’t respond well to the stresses of competition do not have to compete with other kids. The sense of “letting the team down” just isn’t there. However, if your kiddo has a competitive streak, there are certainly disciplines for them as well.
Leadership skills and accountability are also two traits often associated with martial arts. As your child advances in skill level, many studios place importance on training lower level students, developing his/her leadership skills, and building self-confidence.
Is Martial Arts for Children Safe?
In many cases, martial arts have actually been found to be safer for children than most team sports such as football or rugby. As a contact sport, however, minor injuries and a reasonable amount of risk are always implied. Knowing how to prevent these minor injuries is key to keeping your child and others safe regardless of which discipline you choose.
- Find the right instructor- Instructors should be knowledgeable and experienced in teaching young children. Classes must always be appropriate for your child’s age and skill level if injury is to be prevented. Lessons should emphasis technique and self-control over self-defense or encourage aggressive behaviour.
- Technique- Care must be taken to ensure your child is punching or kicking with the proper technique and amount of force. Punches or kicks with the hand/foot in the wrong position can cause injury to fingers and toes.
- Proper Equipment- To ensure safety, it’s important that your child has the proper equipment and that it is well-maintained.
Choosing the Right Kids Martial Arts Discipline
Before committing to a discipline or studio, it’s important that your child try out a few classes first. This will ensure the instructor and demands of the discipline are a good fit for your child’s behaviour, personality, and energy levels.
One of the most popular forms of martial arts, karate focuses on a full-body and mind workout. Most traditional karate classes focus on building a way of life and encourage self-reflection. Classified as both an art and a combat sport, karate places emphasis on self-development. Perseverance, fearlessness, virtual and leadership are valued skills. It is commonly divided into three parts: kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). A good studio will focus on all three as part of a balanced kids karate training program.
Karate is a great option for kids interested in learning how to strike with both hands and feet. With regular competitions and opportunities to move to higher levels, children will have the opportunity to earn trophies and gain recognition for their accomplishments. At higher levels, karate is typically considered the more aggressive form of martial arts for kids. Competitions involve earning points for kicking and punching, whereas in a sport such as Judo, points are awarded for grappling and throwing your opponent.
While karate is often considered to be more aggressive, Judo is purely a defensive form of martial arts for kids. Designed to defend against attacks, this disciple focused primarily on grappling. Mental strength and remaining focused are key focus areas in competition.
Judo is a great option for kids that want to practice a “softer” martial art as it involves body maneuvers rather than kicking or punching. Like karate, there are many competitions and opportunities to advance levels and skills.
Tae Kwon Do
Considered the most well-rounded martial art, kids Tae Kwon Do involves kicks, punches and throws. It is heavy on sparring with an emphasis on high kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kick techniques.
As the most popular form of the sport, there will be plenty of opportunities for your child to compete, and chances are you’ll be able to find a great studio close to home. With an emphasis on sparring, you will have to invest in quality kids martial arts protective gear.
BJJ or Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art and contact sport that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. Like other martial art forms, it places emphasis on both physical and mental fitness. While competition is highly praised in the sport, likely more so than in other disciplines, building character is also a focal point.
Like karate and taekwondo, kids BJJ uses a ranking system. Children are encouraged to develop a healthy sense of competition by ascending through its ranking system. They are given the opportunity to test their newly acquired skills, taught to remain focused under stress, and take control of situations.